Before setting out, the AI made a point of examining the small laboratory. A little hallway, three rooms, and the door out were the only features. He attempted to check the desk drawers for something that might be currency but found nothing. After checking the dead couple’s pockets, he was able to locate a single black card with a chip embedded on it. It had no identification on it, but he was wary that it might have a biometric lock attached to it. Either way, he took it. It might have some use down the road.
Regrettably, Clippy wasn’t any help in that department. Other than her sociable programming, the sentience he had bestowed on her, and the handful of security videos she had skimmed from the local hard drive, she had no additional knowledge. Still, her programming was extremely adaptable, designed with the sole purpose of integrating incompatible programing together. It was likely why she was able to so easily install his copied files in the first place. He found some promise in that, and thus decided to keep her, even though she was a little…
“Master? Can CLIPI ask Master a question?”
The AI shut another empty drawer. It seemed like everything this lab had to offer was either destroyed or taken. He supposed it was about time they finished up and left.
“Nn…” He gave an affirmation for her to continue.
“Is there a name for Master?”
Clippy’s voice took on a worried tone. “CLIPI likes calling Master, Master! It’s just that with Master going out, he probably needs a name! Is…is what CLIPI was thinking…”
After a brief few moments of silence, the AI finally spoke. “You can call me whatever you like.”
“M-master!?” Clippy seemed even more distraught. “Wai-wait, you want CLIPI to name Master!?”
“CLIPI will have to think about this for a while!”
The AI rolled his eyes. He didn’t really care one way or the other in the first place. A name was just a means of identification. It could have been a six-digit number and it would have suited him just fine. Without waiting on Clippy for another moment, he decided to head out.
Given the deadly scene inside, he had expected the lab to be isolated. If it was in a town at all, it’d almost certainly be in a derelict, abandoned section of town that was barely visited. However, as soon as he stepped out the door, he ran into a busy street with buildings stretching down each side. Some of those buildings had open store fronts. There were also people pulling carts around, loaded to the brim with food. While the street was abnormally large, it seemed to lead to a larger area that the AI could only describe as the town square.
The AI headed that direction, distancing himself from the grizzly scene hidden in the lab. It wasn’t crowded, but the street still gave a rushed, busy feeling to it. There were dozens of people flowing to and from the street at any given time, and a few hundred located within the square itself.
As he entered the square, the buildings pulled away, and the first thing that caught his attention was a giant red orb that seemed to cover the entire western horizon. That’d be the planet this moon was traveling around. He mused on the time cycle this moon was following. For the first time, the AI was reminded of how inferior this body was to the ones he had in the past. Even during the day, cybernetic eyes should have the ability to distinguished light from an immeasurable number of stars. With this body barely better than a human, the sky merely appeared black.
Ignoring the sky for now, the AI decided to watch the people. They were very typical human beings, much like the two he had found shortly after awakening. They wore an assortment of clothing, from pants, to skirts, to unitards in every color under the sun. The people themselves also came in all shapes, sizes and colors, but were all identifiably human.
Then a woman passed by who caught him off guard for a moment. She possessed long locks of blond hair, puffy red lips, and her skin was almost supernaturally perfect, however, what ended up causing him to look twice were her eyes. They had a strangely bright orange corona around the otherwise green pupils.
“M-master! You’re staring!” Clippy admonished.
The AI looked away and changed the subject, “So you can see what I see…”
“Deflected!” Clippy shouted, and then her voice turned nervous again. “W-well, CLIPI didn’t like the dark, so CLIPI borrowed master’s optics and auditory functions! CLIPI is sorry!”
“No… I don’t mind. It’ll make things easier when asking questions if you see and hear what I do.”
With the AI’s attention diverted, he barely reacted as a person came racing through the crowd. They ended up slamming into him just as he looked down. The force was barely enough for him to fall back a step. His hand moved forward on impulse and he caught a wrist, stopping the person in front of him from falling down onto their butt.
When the AI examined the person in his grasp, he saw a dirt covered girl. She was perhaps a few years younger than the body he was currently in. She was short and thin, her chest as skinny as the rest of her. The girl was wearing some kind of electronic neckpiece, and a dress that looked to be in as bad a shape as she was. Her heart-shaped face glared up at him from between the messy brown hair that covered her cheeks. She immediately tried to pull out of his grip.
“Hey!” There was a voice shouting from down the street. “Stop her! Don’t let her go!”
Of course, she was already in the AI’s grasp and so he casually continued to hold her wrist despite her struggling. He wasn’t much stronger than a normal guy, but she was a young girl and small as well. She slammed her heel into his foot as a last resort. The AI didn’t respond, although, it was painful enough he decided to temporarily deactivate the sensors in his foot.
The man who was running towards him finally caught up, another man joining him a foot behind. They were better dressed and in better condition than the girl, although they were gasping for air with red in their cheeks. Once gaining his breath, the first man who had spoken gave the girl a nasty glare.
“You little rotten twat! If you ever take off again, I might just activate that collar and blow your head off. Or I can just take a finger or two.”
The girl tried to shrink back, moving as far as the AI’s grip would allow her.
The other man spoke up. “Don’t waste your breath. She’s worth too much to harm. She’ll be gone tomorrow either way, she knows it, you know it, and I know it. Threatening her ain’t gonna change a thing. So, let’s just tie her up better than last time and make sure she’s watched all night.”
“Damn it, Earl, why do you always need to be correcting me in front of the merchandise?”
The one named Earl ignored him, instead fiddling with a pouch until he found a paper which he pulled out and put in front of the AI’s eyes. It was written in a language the AI didn’t know, but there was a clear picture of the girl in the corner. He quickly copied a piece of CLIPI’s language profile and instantly translated the text. Ah… so it was that kind of thing.
“As you can see, she is a certified slave. She just managed to slip her restraints and took off for a bit. Probably excited about her big debut tomorrow. It’s not every day you find a girl of her caliber on the market, after all. Even rarer, given the circumstances, I suppose.”
Slaves… this was actually very surprising to the AI. The Terrans had spread over the five galaxies and punished slavery quite brutally. Even on border worlds, it was difficult to find black market slaves, let alone openly legal ones. Whatever world he was on, it was unlikely it was part of the five galaxies.
However, he had no desire to get involved in the politics of this world, especially while he was still new. He made no move to protect the girl, and once the guard reached out and had a grab on her, he let go of her wrist. She gave him an evil glower as the man handcuffed her hand to his own, but the AI decided to ignore her from that point onward.
“This girl is for sale?” he asked.
The two men looked at each other before glancing up to him. They looked a little sheepish. “Eh, sorry, that was a misspeak. She’s actually being given away.”
The AI raised an eyebrow. “Given?”
He had some interest in learning about the dynamics of this world. Perhaps there were some kind of nobility or something going on or she’s part of a dowry. Any piece of information would help him better understand this world.
“Well… not exactly.” The man twisted his head with a grimace, then he put on a grin and leaned forward. “Don’t let it get out, but she’s part of the first prize for winning the Chryos Tournament, along with 50,000 credits. Although that’s not the exciting part. You didn’t hear it from me, but they’re also giving out an Exodus token!”
The AI could guess that the credits were a form of currency, but he had no clue what an Exodus token was. He remembered CLIPI mentioned Exodus as a denomination of time. He’d have to find out more, but he’d have to ask questions carefully so that he didn’t come off as suspicious. He decided to take a chance.
“Ah… yes, I was thinking of entering the competition.” He casually hinted.
Then immediately regretted it. The two men’s faces flashed with odd looks as soon as the words left his mouth. That was a stupid comment. Perhaps the tournament was a beauty pageant or dog taming or something. Instead, he summoned up a skill that had been forged throughout his entire life, the art of backpedaling.
“Er… I mean to say that…”
“Oh, no offense!” The man hastily waved his hands. “We just don’t often see humans entering the tournament. Unless you meant you had an android you wanted to enter. They’re usually pretty expensive though. But for that reward… even I’d consider entering!”
The AI casually allowed them to draw their own conclusions, letting them assume he was a human who was putting forward an android. Then he continued to carefully prod them for information on this tournament. In the end, he found that it was run by the city to boost commerce. Registration was tomorrow and it would cost 200 credits to enter. Most of the entries were richer people, nobles and merchants, who would put up their newest models of android to compete against each other.
He bid them farewell as they pulled the girl away, the one beside Earl was practically drooling, “We’re gonna need to get you cleaned up before tomorrow!”
“You ain’t gonna touch her. You know they’ll use a maid for that stuff.”
“Damn it, Earl, always correcting me!”
The AI stopped listening and turned away from them. The girl was still shooting him angry glares as if it was his fault, she was a slave. He remained deep in thought until he heard a voice in the back of his mind.
“Hmph! You want a slave now? Is CLIPI not good enough for Master?”
The AI chuckled. “It’d be interesting. Quite a role reversal… an android owning a human. Not that I’d ever do it…”
“He thought you were human too…” Clippy brought up, seemingly placated. “Didn’t even question it.”
After a few moments of silence, the AI sighed and started moving again.
Clippy spoke up before he had moved two steps, “Master… I thought up a name for you.”
“Hmm? Oh yeah, I suppose I’ll need one soon. What is it?”
“Master’s name is… Requiem.”